Keats Community Library in Hampstead is a beautiful period building in the grounds of Keats House, the house and museum associated with the poet John Keats.
A library since the early 1900s as the Heath Library, it was closed in early 2012 as part of Camden Council’s budget cuts and taken over by an independent charitable group of local residents as Keats Community Library.
It survives on donations, and is staffed by volunteers.
“We are not a trust but a company limited by guarantee and a charity registered with the English Charity Commission,” explained Steven Bobasch, chair of the (unpaid volunteer) Board of Directors. “We qualify as a charity as we serve the whole community.”
I spoke to him about the campaign to save the library and the current running of it as an independent institution.
TeleRead: What would have been [the library’s] fate if it had not become a charity?
Steven Bobasch: The library was previously operated by the London Borough of Camden, which claimed budget problems required them to close three libraries, of which we were one. This despite having one of the highest levels of use in the area. If we had not stepped in, the library would no longer exist.
TR: How is the library currently run and financed?
SB: We have about 50 volunteers. We had a small grant from Camden to set us up, and the rest comes from donations in the community and events we organize using the vast talent in this famous part of London.
TR: Is this a model for other libraries in London?
SB: In terms of what volunteers can do, and how libraries can appeal to a broad community offering more than books … YES. In terms of where Iibraries should go — NO! Camden should have tried to reduce costs with volunteers and keep operating a public library. This was ruled out because Camden believed running a library was too difficult for volunteers and didn’t want to fight the unions — who told them it was hard…